The Wild Man
"No thanks, I don't drink that much anyway. (click)"
"Daddy, who was that you were talking to?"
"Triple A road service."
He'd been on the phone with them for at least 10 minutes, listening to their spiel, and saying "uh huh... yes... okay... ah". I wondered what the sales representative on the other end of the line must think of him, and whether he even caught on that he'd been had. My dad had a great straight-faced delivery style. Often the only way you could tell he was kidding was by the twinkle in his eyes.
On another occasion, during the Asian currency crisis, when he was battling the cancer that would ultimately kill him, I called and asked how he was doing and he said "I feel like a million ... uhhh.... Rupiyah!" (the Indonesian currency that was virtually worthless at the time.)
He was fond of silly jokes, corny jokes, and really lame jokes. He was a fan of the Marx Brothers. Once when he had a gig with the symphony (he played trombone and often sat in with our local symphony when they needed extra bones) he walked out the door carrying his trombone, dressed in his white bowtie, tuxedo coat with tails, cummerbund, ruffled dress shirt, and his boxer shorts. "See y'all tonight!" Inspired by the fancy get-up, he was pretending that he'd forgotten his pants. He had a great poker face. I always meant to give him some boxer shorts with big red polka dots someday for a present, just so he could use them for gags like that.
Once after looking for a parking spot near the downtown library for too long, he parked in the handicapped place and dragged a leg all the way in. He was so serious about it, I'm sure all the passersby were brokenhearted at the poor crippled man whose family was trying so hard to pretend they didn't know him.
Mom at one point put up a whiteboard on the fridge for our large family to leave messages to one another. Dad would sneak in there when noone was around and draw bizarre cartoons on the board for us to find later. I remember one of a 50s looking dude with a flat-top haircut, dressed in a zoot suit. He was looking through a rickety telescope, and his eyes were popping out of his head with astonishment. There was no clue in the drawing as to what he might be seeing. I don't know why Dad was so careful not to be caught drawing those things, because you could tell who did them just by looking. Nobody else in the family was that weird. =)
On a picture of my older brother at about 18 months of age, looking with curiosity at a sleeping dog, he wrote "Charlie bags his first dog."
Once he wrote "glypns" on this mug someone gave him, in the box labeled "Hello, my name is:" My little brother was around 5 at the time, I guess, and he became obsessed with determining for certain who it was who wrote "glypns" on that cup. I mean, we all knew it was Dad, but he would never admit it. Mike was determined he would get Dad to fess up. "Admit it, Daddy! You DID WRITE GLYPNS!" He would not let it drop. Finally, Dad got the cup, erased the random string of letters, then wrote them back.... g...l...y...p...n...s. "There!" he said in triumph, handing the cup back to Mike. "I did write glypns!"
"Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!" Mikie howled. "I mean the FIRST time. Did you or did you not write glpyns the first time?" and so it went on.
At least 25 years later, long after Mikie had finally given up, my mom was just about to tromp Dad in some game or other they were playing (we were quite a competitive game playing family, innovating full-contact chess and other such recreations), when she said "All right, Charlie, what are your last words?" He thought about it a second and replied "I DID write glypns." I think that took the prize for the punch line with the longest advanced set-up. =) I expect he was saving that one up to be his real dying words, but was afraid he'd be hit by a falling piano or something and lose his chance. That would have been a shame.
Another one, along the lines of math jokes, is one day when he burst out to my mom with "Libba, you're one in a hundred thousand!"
He was a really good liar. He played all games as though they were games of bluff. He played Scrabble, even, as a game of bluff. He would plunk down these crazy words, and say them with such conviction that you totally believed they were actual real words. I remember one night when he triumphantly announced "YOIGHTS!" and claimed his 50 point bonus. Mom and I hesitated.... should one of us challenge it? He would simply eat you alive if you didn't press him. Yet both of us were actually convinced that it was real, though neither of us had heard of it. Dad was very convincing. Finally I said "all right, I'll challenge", feeling certain I was about to lose my turn. Guess what? If yoights was a word, it wasn't one Webster had heard of. Mom and I started to giggle a little. "YOIGHTS!", such triumph in his voice! We had been totally taken in AGAIN! We kept giggling more and more, and kept setting each other off. Finally we were both doubled over, gasping for breath, saying "YOIGHTS!" with complete conviction, every time we managed to stop laughing for a second or two, and starting us both back up again. Daddy had that effect on Mom and me often.
Another demonstration of his amazing powers of bluff came whenever Mom served Tater Tots. Now Tater Tots were a huge favorite of everyone in our family. Mom fried them in very hot Crisco and margarine, amd they were crunchy, and hot, and so delicious! Somehow, back in the dawn of time, long before my memory formed, it became a tradition that whenever we had Tater Tots for supper, Dad would steal one from our plates. He did it very cleverly, though, using his talent for lying. I sat with my back to a big plate glass window overlooking the deck and woods, in those days, and Dad sat across from me facing the window. He would pretend to be looking at something outside, very subtly and in a way that did not alert any of my suspicions, despite the fact that we knew to guard our plates zealously on Tater Tot night. Then he'd make some oblique comment, something that seemed to be relevant to whatever odd thing was happening outside. Naturally, I'd innocently turn around, see nothing, and realize in that instant that I'd been taken once again. Turning back, I would find my plate had been relieved of one of my precious Tots. The lowdown crumb! Mom eventually got so annoyed with his suppertime hijinks that she never served Tater Tots again. =)
He looked so respectable and serious, and he was so quiet, that lots of people had no idea how crazy he was. He played up his image as the absent minded professor type, saying to me things like "hand me that paper there Charlie, I mean Laurie, I mean... what's your name again?" He would pretend to forget things sometimes, to make a joke of the fact that he really did forget things other times, so that you never quite knew when he was being serious and when he was making fun. Once I said to mom, "Oh, Daddy just pretends to be weird, he's really not as weird as he pretends to be." She thought seriously about that for a while, then said, "No, I think your Daddy is actually weirder far than any of us can even imagine." Later on, I realized she was right. =)
His humor was almost never crude, though when he was ill at the end, after his surgery, when his doctor asked him if he'd had any gas, and explained that in this case, as a sign of his digestion starting back up, gas was reason for celebration, Dad answered "Oh, it always is!" He kept on making jokes right up to the end. When my friend Miriam, a nurse, whom we had hired to stay overnight with him in the days after the surgery, refused to give him his oxygen mask, obeying the doctor's orders, he instructed mom the next day to cut her out of the will.
He's been gone now for five years. I always thought he would live forever. Something this week made me remember one of his jokes, and laugh. So I felt like writing some of them down, so that I wouldn't forget. However else he was as a father, whatever else he did or didn't do, he certainly made us laugh a whole lot. And that is something I'll always remember.